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On Fire

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Apr. 15th, 2016 | 06:49 pm

This is what I remember about the first time I was on fire. It was a gay club. I was wearing a leather outfit with chains across the chest. I blew a fireball and what I always say is that the air conditioner kicked on and it blew back on me, but that may be made up, or a lie. I wasn’t very good at fire-eating. I had only learned a few months previously. When they carried me out I shouted to my friend the go-go dancer, “Get my money!”

The ambulance took me to the closest hospital where they cut off my Sinead O’Connor concert t-shirt. Then another ambulance took me to the charity hospital because I had no insurance. It was brick, and they bathed me in what looked like a horse trough. The nurse shot me up with morphine and the world receded into a hazy glow. I called my voice teacher and she came and sat with me. I was bandaged like the Invisible Man.

Burn wards are full of children, because children pull over pots on stoves, or play with lighters in flammable outfits. Charity burn wards have more of them because the parents have less time and money to watch them. Children scream, and screaming keeps me awake.

So the next day I went home on the bus.

I realized I’d called my voice teacher because I had lived in Chicago for six months and had no friends. That I was cold all the time. I told my drama school I wasn’t coming back. They sent me a cut letter anyway.

The scars healed in the shape of a chain. They are there still, faded.

* * *

The second time I was on fire was in a club in Atlanta, with my then-boyfriend, then-partner, soon-to-be-fiancé. He held a torch on my skin too long and was startled when I screamed. He hadn’t known the beautiful photo of a leg full of fire was a long exposure.

I’m sure I berated him. If not for that, for something else. For many other things. We loved each other like twins and fought like siblings. I didn’t know then that we were both depressed, that my ambition was also mania.

Now he sends me the last book Terry Pratchett will ever have written, because Terry Pratchett is dead and so is our marriage. Inside he writes, I would gladly have kept buying them for you. I am glad we treat each other with such kindness.

Now he is the brother I never had. I have two biological brothers, and that, too, is a scar.

* * *

The last time I was on fire was on purpose. Fire is the act to do when you’re tired, when it’s late, when you’re cold already. Yes, it is easier when it’s cold out. And harder when it’s windy and the flame whips across your face and takes out a pair of false eyelashes and parts of your real ones. I tilted my head back to light my tongue on fire and lit another torch from the flame. Bringing my head upright is a practiced motion, eye contact with an audience member, flick my tongue with the last of the flame and smile. Another ten in the hat, maybe twenty if it’s a family or a group of dudes. On the other side of the circle, my partner flicks her tongue too late and misses the smile. Eventually the motion will sink in. Our interns watch with longing, wanting to be in the fire act and scared of being in it, too.

Tomorrow we will teach them in a windless underground parking garage, first with unlit torches to get the motion. I learned alone—when you teach someone, you’re responsible for their safety, if they set themselves on fire or do something dumb at a party it’s your fault for teaching them wrong or picking the wrong people.

I want to tell them, be kind to your lovers, love your audience, always get what you’re worth. Instead I say, “Heads back farther before the torch goes in,” knowing they will be on fire when I am long retired, they must earn their own scars.





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This is my favorite fire-eating photo - Montenegro, 2009.

DSC_6668

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Comments {18}

favoritebean

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from: favoritebean
date: Apr. 16th, 2016 12:29 am (UTC)
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I have always held tremendous respect for those who can eat fire. It is something that I don't feel the patience to learn, but I will always watch with interest. You will be a great teacher to your students tomorrow, I'm certain.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2016 02:14 am (UTC)
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Thank you! I always say the hard part isn't eating fire, it's turning a 30-second trick into a 15 minute routine with comedy and audience participation!

This is actually in the past - the interns both learned and did it successfully, though they weren't ready to put it in a show yet :)

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

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from: halfshellvenus
date: Apr. 16th, 2016 05:54 am (UTC)
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I remember the scar from the necklace chain coming up in another story, but I didn't realize this was the type of situation that led to the fire that caused it.

Playing with fire and being marked by the experience is kind of a metaphor for your life, but that's because you are more willing to take risks and do unusual things than most of us.

I envy your bravery in all that you do. :)

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2016 03:58 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - that's high praise! It's a little arrogant, but I think being willing to go out and do stuff carries the obligation to come back and report, and encourage.

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rayaso

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from: rayaso
date: Apr. 16th, 2016 02:25 pm (UTC)
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Is that you in the photograph? I love the expressions on the faces of the children. This was so well structured, moving from the episodes in which you were on fire. At the very beginning, I thought that being on fire was strictly metaphorical, so I was surprised that you meant it literally. I loved the way it morphed into the failed marriage, and the lesson about being kind to your lovers and getting what you're worth.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2016 03:59 pm (UTC)
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That's me :) Thanks! I'm glad the structure worked for you - this one didn't come together until I reworked the ending at the last minute!

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blahblahblah, whatever

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from: kathrynrose
date: Apr. 17th, 2016 11:06 am (UTC)
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I want to frame a copy of that picture.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 18th, 2016 02:34 am (UTC)
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<3

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blink

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from: yachiru
date: Apr. 17th, 2016 09:31 pm (UTC)
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Sometimes I want to steal your life details and make you into a werewolf detective girl. >_>

I like the repeating in this and how it seems fire was an aspect of change each time.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 18th, 2016 02:34 am (UTC)
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I would be honored :)

Thanks!

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kick_galvanic, zagzagael, skull_theatre

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from: bleodswean
date: Apr. 17th, 2016 09:49 pm (UTC)
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My favourite act! I loved a fire breather decades ago and his mouth tasted of kerosene.

Love the image! And I enjoyed these snippets of being on fire, the first one most especially.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 18th, 2016 02:35 am (UTC)
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Bleah, kerosene! Not my fuel of choice :) But it sure does make great fireballs.

Thanks!

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Murielle

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from: murielle
date: Apr. 18th, 2016 02:37 am (UTC)
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What a FABULOUS take on the prompt!

I love your pieces. They are good for the soul, in every way.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 18th, 2016 02:43 am (UTC)
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Thank you - what a beautiful compliment! (blush)

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Kelly

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from: kajel
date: Apr. 18th, 2016 01:31 pm (UTC)
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I love how you repeat to a different experience with fire each time. Your stories are always to interesting and wonderfully done.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 18th, 2016 05:50 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! And so nice to see you around :)

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witchwife

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from: witchwife
date: Apr. 18th, 2016 09:02 pm (UTC)
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This was beautifully told. I was hooked from beginning to end.

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prog_schlock

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from: prog_schlock
date: Apr. 18th, 2016 11:26 pm (UTC)
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Wow, I'm so impressed that you've trained to do this. We have a local fire eater who performers at events with names like "Carnal Carnival" and he's pretty amazing. He does a thing where he lights his forearm very briefly on fire (I assume there's some sort of fast burning alcohol or something on his skin). The whole act terrifies and impresses me at the same time. He's not even especially charismatic, but he's very skilled and clearly has put a ton of time and training into the art. Something that is clearly true of you, too.

Thank you so much for sharing this - Its really a great three piece look into artistic process, growth and the responsibilities that come when you pass on your art.

Here's the obvious song:

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